Why Do We Make Things So Difficult for Tenants?


For homeowners struggling in the first year of the pandemic, there was early hope that these difficult times would not throw people with mortgages on the streets.

Thanks to swift government action, landlords quickly learned that many of them could delay their monthly payments for up to 18 months, and even had the option to recoup them after 40 years.

The tenants weren’t so lucky.

Sure, there were federal and regional moratoriums on evictions, but it took almost a year for Congress to come up with real pay aid, and that’s it. so far it just dripped. It also came with a series of restrictions and barriers that needed to be removed, piling on a population where millions were already in a precarious financial situation.

We have to say it out loud: When it comes to public policy, people who don’t have their own homes are treated as second-class citizens.

If you can’t afford to buy (or choose not to), you’re missing out on lots of tax incentives. Then, when a protracted crisis hits, your ability to have a roof over your head is subject to a kind of sloppy political bullshit that allows the eviction moratorium to expire before it does. partially restored.

So how did this happen and why? And what will we learn from it?

Let’s start with the basics: For decades—and for pretty good reasons given the wealth-building possibilities that come from home ownership—the federal government has dug up the mortgage market in a variety of ways. Lenders have the backing of the federal government, and homeowners can receive deductions for their monthly payments, as well as appropriate tax treatment if a home gains any long-term value.

But whether imagination or reluctance, there is little national infrastructure to help most tenants. An obvious shortfall, exemplified by the slow distribution of this year’s $47 billion in rent aid as molasses. Just 3 billion dollars It was delivered at the end of June.

Many mortgage borrowers have access to a one-call do-it-all payment pause button through their mortgage service provider, at least in theory. Their relatively good luck is an improvement from the turmoil that was the latest financial crisis. At the time, the collapse of the housing market led to an overwhelming wave of foreclosures, in part because people looking for a loan change faced unimaginable complexity.

But tenants now face what policy experts call an “administrative burden.”

The phrase refers to a series of irritating barriers that tenants – often low-income people – must face in accessing any form of assistance, such as the ice-cold rental assistance.

In books about this phenomenon. and other scholarship, Georgetown University professors Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan outline the three leaps needed to overcome such burdens.

The first is awareness. To get help, you need to know it’s available in the first place. As of May, months after the rent assistance became available, 57 percent of tenants and nearly 40 percent of landlords were not even aware of it. Urban Institute questionnaire.

Then there is eligibility. Rental assistance comes with rules that aren’t always easy to navigate. It’s even harder if you’re exhausted by unemployment, shuttered child and elderly care, or illness.

It can be difficult to find someone who can explain everything. Homeowners have mortgage officers to help. Businesses that had donated and relatively affordable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program had bankers. Many precarious tenants do not have such assistance.

“For someone facing eviction, desperately trying to figure out how to apply, what forms to fill out, where to go, you can quickly see how brutal that is,” Professor Herd told me this week.

Finally, there is harmony. Forms must be filled in completely and submitted correctly. And when it comes to rental assistance, landlords in many places have to cooperate by agreeing to accept money offered by the government.

There were other problems with the rent assistance program and so on. For example, a cumbersome computer system can inexplicably reject applicants.

“He confused them with someone else or turned them down when they were eligible for refunds,” he said. Emily BenferAdjunct professor who has seen these kinds of issues many times over the years while representing clients at Wake Forest University’s Law School. Each improperly rejected application takes months to fix and has significant costs, not only in the loss of support but also in time and energy that you can use to stabilize yourself and your family.

There are many reasons why we put more burdens on lower incomes – too many. There are historical and in many cases racially motivated assumptions about who deserves it. There is a fear of fraud, which is logical to some extent but it is problematic when it delays help during an acute crisis.

Sometimes it is due to the ignorance of the government.

“The programs are designed by people who are not poor themselves, and these people are not consulted,” he said. Peter HepburnHe is an assistant professor at Rutgers University-Newark and also Evacuation Laboratory program at Princeton. The result can be very significant flaws, such as optimizing forms for people who use computers and printers while using mobile phones – not to mention the only realistic possibility – for many people who need it.

And finally, we always and forever have political thoughts. Low-income tenants have no power, and elected officials know it.

“Even if you understand that it’s not going to be a great experience when you try to get benefits, you probably aren’t concerned about it politically,” said Professor Herd.

So what can we learn? And what could actually go right the next time, say, a major hurricane brings much of South Florida to a standstill?

First, Research Results from the Eviction Lab program show that relatively few homeowners appear to be responsible for the majority of eviction applications in any given community. Forward-thinking authorities can focus their outreach and, if necessary, enforcement efforts on these people.

Data is also very important. To reach those in need quickly, agencies at all levels of government can share resources to put together better directories of tenant addresses in vulnerable areas. This will give them a jump start when it’s time to send help.

Then there is kindness.

Elizabeth Linos, assistant professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, People Lab there, I learned the benefit of it. While assisting Denver-area officials in recent months testing the city’s access to tenants. He and his colleague Jessica Lasky-Fink He prepared two different mails for a group of residents they believed might need rental and community service assistance.

One note was a standard government post. The other stressed that the predicament they were in was not their fault and would help municipal workers “get the help every eligible household deserves”.

Forty percent more people applied for assistance in response to the human-touching note than a control group that never received mail, and nearly 10 percent more applied for assistance than those who received the standard mail.

“We see poverty in the United States as a moral failing,” Professor Linos said. “Maybe the first time you need help, that doesn’t make you a bad person.”


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